Around the time I turned 50, something disappointing happened. After a few years of struggling with insomnia and depression — and associated bad habits — I gained a significant amount of weight.
I would catch sight of my silhouette in a shop window and think: 'Who is that?' The turning point was when I struggled to put my socks on as I couldn't see over my stomach.
Until my mid-40s, I had been lucky: a naturally active person, I never had to watch what I ate.
But even though I adopted a healthier diet and boxercise (an intense training class based on boxing) — I even splashed out on a twice-weekly personal trainer — those extra pounds around my stomach just wouldn't go away.
The new probiotic supplement called ShapeLine (pictured) promises to help people lose weight
So imagine my excitement when I heard about a new probiotic supplement called ShapeLine, which promised to help people — particularly 'midlifers' like me — shed their spare tyre.
The claims were grand. 'ShapeLine is the first probiotic really to offer proven weight loss, alongside other acknowledged health benefits,' says Dr Nigel Plummer, the microbiologist whose firm, Pro-Ven, is behind the product.
'In the largest clinical study of its kind, participants saw a reduction of weight, waist circumference and BMI [body mass index] after taking just one capsule a day.'
The best results were found in people over 50. But what makes the results so impressive is that the 440 participants in the study (the results of which were published yesterday in the journal Scientific Reports) did not alter their diet or take up a new exercise regimen. In other words, they swallowed the pill and ate as normal.
Julian Marchesi, a microbiologist at Imperial College London, who co-authored the study but was not paid by the company, describes the results as: 'A potential game-changer in weight-loss science.'
So, can such a claim really be justified?
ShapeLine contains a blend of five strains of probiotics — so‑called 'good' bacteria that are thought to improve the health of the microbiome, the community of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that colonise our gut and other areas of the body.
It's understood they play a key role in everything from aiding our digestion to maintaining a healthy immune system.
Professor Marchesi says: 'In order to function properly, the microbiome needs to be a diverse community.'
If one strain of bacteria is wiped out, another becomes more dominant, and this can lead to issues.
ShapeLine contains a blend of five strains of probiotics — so‑called 'good' bacteria that are thought to improve the health of the microbiome
An imbalance of bacteria has been implicated in any number of ailments, from allergies to inflammatory bowel conditions, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Studies have found that lean and overweight people have different gut bacteria.
'Some patterns of microbiome appear to affect the risk of becoming overweight or obese,' says Dr Plummer.
The new pill contains five different probiotics — 'good' bacteria — that are thought to influence the gut and limit the absorption of fat.
In particular, the bacteria inside the probiotic ShapeLine pill may promote the production of bile (the fluid made and released by the liver, which plays a role in fat metabolism).
'In other words, the probiotic helps the person burn more fat, simultaneously lowering their 'bad' LDL cholesterol,' says Professor Julian Marchesi, a microbiologist at Imperial College London.
'For example, research has shown that high levels of antibiotic use (which can wipe out good, as well as bad, bacteria) in infants is associated with weight gain in later childhood and probably adulthood.'
The five different strains of bacteria in ShapeLine are from the same families of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria that are used to produce yoghurt and other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut.
In 2018, Dr Plummer's team set up clinical trials involving people aged 30 to 65 with a BMI of between 25 (defined as 'overweight') and 34.9 ('obese') who also